Online Education Narrative: A Pilot (Rural)

As Covid19 Pandemic affected national economies and world finances; eventually it also affected the genesis of those very economies-our classrooms. Amidst lockdown, when summer breaks seemed lasting a long, a triangle of teacher-students-parents (TSP) was getting unsettle and restless. However, as an ever-resilient society, we opened our ‘Windows’ of online education with the help of Android, and ‘Zoom’ed into the perspective of future education. 

Being a student myself, and coming from a family of teachers, I could understand the struggle on both sides of the screen. Online teaching and learning accelerated from the last three to four months when uncertainty in government announcements about exams and evaluation left the TSP triangle anxious. Especially, students in 10th and 12th standard, which usually considered as turning years in student’s life, left with a lot of non-classroom doubts. Including a validation of certification for class 10th since the new categorization of academic levels occurred in New Education Policy 2020 (NEP2020). 

While students tried hard to self-discipline into their studies, parents had their separate court of struggles. Another day my barber called me if I have a spare phone, after a couple of days my milk-man whispered to me the same. I told them, I can help them to buy a new one, but they were not sure how long this online education will continue and whether they want to invest money into buying a new android phone for their children’s online education.

The economic burden of online education was not much visible in metropolitan cities, or maybe it was difficult to see sub-urban economic vulnerabilities from quarantined flat systems, but in Covid19 Pandemic, we saw the worst of all situations. A Dalit girl from Malappuram, Kerala died by suicide because she was unable to join classes in a lack of cell-phone.

On contrary, some economically abled parents were worried about the behavioral and psychological consequences of giving cell-phone with the active internet to their children. This Covid19 Pandemic truly shows us the extremities of human suffering and resilience in society. 

Teachers in the TSP triangle experienced these realities in multiple life stories of diverse student-parents groups associated with them. In overall coverage of online education during the Covid19 Pandemic, teachers occupied very little space, however, they completed their responsibilities with the utmost sincerity. Again, demographical differences are visible in the experiences of teachers. However, most of the teachers found it difficult to operate through digital channels, while some found it difficult to control the class online.

On top of that, mocking and insults from the teenage students, stress handling of parents of youngers, and the domestic burden of teaching from the home tested the emotional labor of teachers. Despite it, they were ready, when many city corporations asked them to do Covid19 surveys, days in and days out. 

I saw my mother and her colleagues facing multiple challenges in course of online teaching. Most of the teachers from her age group have teaching experience more than thirty years, and they have seen a lot of academic and administrative changes over the period, but the Covid19 Pandemic brought new wisdom to their pedagogy.

Therefore, for the formal inquiry into the dynamics of the TSP triangle about coping with online education and mindset, I conducted a small survey among teachers in the Amaravati and Nagpur district of Maharashtra.

The survey was focused on rural region and data was collected through snowball sampling-I simply asked the known teacher group of different schools to fill the survey and forward the survey link to their known teacher circle. I received 110 survey responses, among which 60% were female teachers, and 40% were male teachers. Following are a few of the results of a survey, which gives us some interesting stories. 

I asked teachers if online education is effective, and responses to this question varied according to demographic differences. 

55% of teachers from rural areas thought that online education is less effective. Nevertheless, 45% of teachers said it is effective. However, such a close cut in the results confirms the dynamic reasons for these experiences of teachers. Thus, to understand these experiences deeper I asked if they think internet-based applications can help students to learn new things, the responses were homogeneous “Yes” and “Maybe” across differences of gender and regionality.

This shows that irrespective of views on online education, all teachers fundamentally think utilizing the internet-based application as knowledge resources are okay. 

The views on online education and the use of internet-based applications are counter conclusive. Thus, it is important to understand the underlying reasons for the difference in teacher’s experience with online education. To dig a little deeper, I asked teachers what are their challenges and what things need to be changed for effective and efficient education, following are a few of their responses. 

Socio-Economic Conditions

Many teachers admitted the economical vulnerabilities of day laborer parents. Covid19 Pandemic has affected the day laborer income adversely, and for the majority of rural parents, investment in android phones and the internet connection was not an easy choice. One of the teachers said,

Around 25% of primary school students come to school for a mid-day meal. They eat little for themselves, and take the remaining meals home for their younger siblings or disable parents. During Covid19 Pandemic we have seen their helplessness. I think it is foolish to expect them to be a part of it (online education).”

-Class 5th Teacher

The generic nature of our public policies and their blindfolded implementation often costs immense psychological and socio-economic stress on the masses. Although online education seems a flexible way of continuing schools is such a deadly Covid19 Pandemic, we are way behind in the inclusive policy implementation. How does it matter, if we have the Right to Education- compulsory free education for children when our means of education are volatile and unresourceful? 

These experiences brought some economic-class based inferiority in the minds of students. Or at least they witnessed the effect of economic inequality on educational pursuits at an early age. Usually, students face economic strains of the education system during the admission for college, however, today children know that the quality of their studies are depending on the availability and quality of the smart-phone they have. It is complicated to understand the effect of class-based inferiority in young students, but it can be traced down in a few of the observations below:

“Her (my friend’s) father and mother both go to work in a municipal office (sweepers); her mother gave her a phone. Baba (my father) said he will also get me a new phone after cotton crop”- 6-year-old, Girl.

“He uses his brother’s spare phone; it has a big screen. He can play the game, watch a cartoon, and YouTube on it. It is a very expensive phone. I will ask for the same phone to Baba (father)”-5-year-old, Boy.

“Babu (my brother) is in a convent school. His class-teacher said he needs a phone, so Aai (Mother) said he’s younger let him use a phone. When nana (Father) will get money, we can buy the phone later.”- 10-year-old, Girl.

“I have to take a break this year, my father lost a job, and this year it will not be possible for me to attend online classes and give the exam. This year I will earn money and next year I will fill the form again.”- 16-year-old, Boy.

“This year I won’t be able to take admission. My sister lost her job, and we have limited savings”-20-year-old, Girl. 

The above data is collected through informal interrogation with students in different classes, and carefully probing into their experience of education in lockdown. We can read through text the conditionalities in speech and competitive persuasion. Although these narratives are region-restricted we don’t need numbers to understand the effect of Covid19 Pandemic on education and dreams of students.

Although these experiences are very accidental as the Covid19 Pandemic itself, it is important to give hands to students who are left behind in crises and recover the broken dreams. This is a shared responsibility of the TSP triangle intersected with welfare from government bodies. 

Technical and Infrastructural Challenges

Certainly, an outburst of Covid19 Pandemic put unpredictable pressure on work methods in every field. However, some sectors are more adaptive to the new work requirements whereas some are still coping with it. Digital India however, did not get along well with online education in most of the rural part of India. While teachers were asked to be present in schools, and create the material for online teaching, they shared the technological challenges faced by themselves. One of the teachers shared his experience, 

“We are arranging interschool essay competition, elocution competition, school magazine in every winter session from the last 10 years, but today when we thought of arranging it online, we understood our limitations. We are not able to properly video record our school events, it is difficult to bring the whole classroom experience online.”

Class 6th Teacher

Around 85% of teachers in the rural area submitted that they face technical challenges during the online education process. 

In the given population, noticeably every teacher mentioned that not everyone in a class has a cell phone. Similarly, common answers about low cell-phone network connectivity in rural regions being a huge hurdle. 

On a home-state Gujrat visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2017, he announced Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMGDSA) under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India. 

However, the scheme does not appear well in the Pandemic Test. The infrastructure in rural India, including training for teachers, is as illusionary as a number game on the website of the scheme. To the requirement of digital education, all the schools and colleges have separately assigned the digital rooms. Those rooms are equipped with a computer, audio system, video system, and student’s sitting arrangement with some entertaining wall paintings for students. 

While wandering through primary schools in Mumbai, I witnessed some of the urban catholic schools utilizing the PMGDSA scheme effectively, they have big screen monitors in every class with sound systems (also carrot for parents), however, some of the suburban schools use the assigned digital room as teacher’s lunchroom, or parents meeting room. I haven’t seen any educational videos but those spiders on the monitor were creepy. 

Such vast difference just in and around part of Mumbai, a metro giant; imagine the situations in rural India. I am not here criticizing the policy; I am pointing out gaps in implementation. The malice of greed in politics and governance. A corruption.

Further, recently Prime Minister Modi indicated to MNCs to make Wifi available at deepest rural India. However, such developmental decisions also have consequences. A consequence of low conscious society. And the starting of such a social disaster starts when our learning experience becomes inhuman or artificial. 

While talking about challenges in online education, the teachers also mention pedagogical challenges and serious effects on learning. The real classroom environment, where students’ behavioral interactions with one another, gives us an important opportunity to teach soft skills to students. On playground experience, in mid-races experience, collective learning experience brings a platform where teachers can seed values in students. One of the teachers shared that, 

“Our schools increasingly becoming result-driven factories. We may have the technology, digital education, and internet today, but it is also become increasingly difficult to teach social skills to students from lived experience.” 

Class 3 Teacher

The global rat race in the job market inflated students’ and parents’ minds with competitive hedges. The pre-admission processes for schools, colleges, and even for the tuition classes have become very competitive, and exclusively commercial.

Parents’ expectations are popularly rigid about scores and ranks whereas educational success is measured through how quickly a 5-year-old can solve a mathematical problem, make animation on a computer or learn to write a coding language. These categorically isolated focus on learning may develop students’ generation knowledgeable and technologically efficient, but we need our classrooms and schools to develop a generation wise and socially conscious. 

Our school days help us to know the larger world, similarly, many possibilities open up for young minds. These are the days we start dreaming. Renouncing such a valuable experience for children is quite difficult for teachers. A teacher’s job has a unique meaning for Developing Generations. Let’s not destroy our learning experience. 

While talking about such a great opportunity to develop a generation, civics of the nation, I tried to understand what are all the structural problems the education system has from a teacher’s point of view. 

Which further can enable teachers to give their hundred percent potential in the classroom. That immediate structural emergency is about documentation, and engagement into para national services like election duty, booth level officer (BLO) in the census, and different government programs like sanitation program, counting toilets in households. When asked, whether administrative by government or school management committee affect the teaching in a classroom, the following are the results. 

In the given survey around 75 to 80 % of teachers submitted that some of the administrative decisions either by the government or school management committee affect the teaching quality in the classroom. Additional duties to the teaching, including student records, documentation, and reporting at a different level is more time-consuming. Teachers said,

“Often our time at school is divided into completing the textbook course work, and keeping the lengthy record of students’ progress.”

Class 8 Teacher

The pedagogical freedom and innovation in the documentation process can have significant relaxation for teachers to enable their full potential in the classroom. After this, when I tried to understand whether teachers feel physically and emotionally safe, I encountered a lot of other complexities. Those always keep teachers with a limited voice on institutional or administrative violence. So, I asked them if they have any facility to register their grievances? 

Strangely, the answers submitted are 50%-50% percent ‘yes’ and ‘no’ which talk about two different lived experiences. As there is a limitation to this method, it is important to investigate these questions from qualitative inquiry in the future.  

Online/virtual data feeding is one of the time-saving documentation options, which claims to save writing and reporting time of the teachers. Nevertheless, teachers would require well-designed training to develop such technological acumen.

Decades of pedagogical systems, teaching methods, functional attributes, and characteristics of student-teacher relationship will require the simultaneous up-gradation. Also, differences like demographics, city types, geographies, and culture require consideration in policymaking as well as implementation. Till then, teachers are still a subaudible story in the TSR triangle. 

Anomaly

We previously saw teachers are doubtful about the efficiency of online education in the rural region but they think internet-based applications are good information resources. However, parents are worried about the impact of internet active cell-phones on children. 

The Internet has given us an infinite source of data at our fingertips. Now it has become unmanageable information causing serious mental health issues, and existential problems. Exposure of matured content in pre-matured age created an anomaly in cognitive evolution. The future of such an anomaly is chaos and darkness. When virtual reality will take over our ethnographic experience; no social constructions/entitlements will survive including gender, marriage, taxation, etc. 

However, parents don’t have to think about all this, their concern is simple-the health of children. Swollen irritated eyes at the age of 6 are not at all a good sign for a healthy mind and body. Time and space-restricted use of the mobile phone is very important. The remaining free time when your kid is bored, please don’t hand him over a phone. Instead, involve your kid in your daily chores, so that the kid will learn from his own lived experiences. 

Future ?

(On Left) He’s a student in 8th class. He’s handling his father’s vegetable shop. He daily spends his spare time with his father/brother. He daily interacts with around 100 to 300 people. He observes many more than that. He understands the importance of money through the customers’ behaviour, he achieved a good speed in calculations. He is polite and insecure about mysteries.

(On right) These are three generations of a traditional business family. When they are on their own, their coordination is just wonderful. The child has a well put-up economic background. He also has high business acumen, language skills, self-confidence, and articulation. He tackles customers at his shop at the age of 8. He is friends in nature but has strong convincing skills.

In New Education Policy 2020, a suggestion for field integrated vocational learning is proposed. From all the perspectives of the TSP triangle as well as the global competitive market, the NEP 2020 proposed that, by 2025 at least 50% of students will have vocational education.

The policy indicated to make all educational institutes multidisciplinary by 2040 by reducing separation amongst curricular, extracurricular, co-curricular, and amongst arts, humanities, and sciences, or amongst vocational and academic streams.

This new teaching-learning objective is quite engaging for children. When we are equipping course structure for multidisciplinary, multilingual teaching-learning objectives, we have to help parents to break their conventional competitive mindsets about career, money, positions, and academic fame. Eliminating separation between schools’ teaching-learning activities and streams need equal awareness among parents to let the children choose their interests.  In parallel to the new education policy, it is required develop an awareness among parents and teachers; not limited to parents-teachers meet.

A sudden disruption of online education during pandemic is a reminder for us. Education is one of the foundations for our progress and development, and it always functions in corelation to society, economy and psychology. Online education experiences revealed lot of sensitive dynamics among the TSP triangle. What new attributes will be added to TSP triangle with the implementation of NEP 2020 is an interesting scope for future research.

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